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DFL files complaint with campaign finance board over Pawlenty business ties
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DFL Chair Mike Erlandson says BAMCO may have been a front for illegal campaign contributions. (MPR Photo/Jeff Horwich)
Gov. Tim Pawlenty's relationship to a pay phone company may get a closer look from the state's top campaign finance officials. The chairman of the Minnesota DFL Party on Friday filed a complaint against Pawlenty with the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board. The complaint says Pawlenty may have knowingly falsified campaign finance information to hide his income from Access Anywhere.

St. Paul, Minn. — DFL Party Chair Mike Erlandson says he's not presuming the governor is guilty of anything. But he says the connection between Pawlenty and Access Anywhere looks suspicious, and Pawlenty is withholding information. Erlandson believes a campaign finance investigation will help clear the air.

"We have waited two weeks, hoping that the governor would come forward and do this himself," Erlandson said. "But now that the governor is refusing to answer more questions, refusing at the request of both the media and others to disclose his taxes, refusing to potentially participate in hearings, I think it is time for us to ask the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure board to take a look at this."

During his campaign, Pawlenty received about $60,000 from Access Anywhere for consulting work, under the name BAMCO. On campaign finance forms, he listed BAMCO as an investment asset. After questions arose this month about the nature of BAMCO and Pawlenty's other ties to the telecommunications industry, he amended the form to also show the BAMCO money as earned income.

We expected the Democrats would attempt to exploit these issues for partisan gain.
- Gov. Tim Pawlenty

But Pawlenty has yet to detail or document the work he did for Access Anywhere, which is owned by his friend and Republican activist Elam Baer.

DFL Chair Erlandson says BAMCO may have been a front for illegal campaign contributions.

"Why was this organization created? It looks like the governor might have created this BAMCO entity for the single, sole purpose of hiding that connection," he said.

Gov. Pawlenty issued only a short written statement in response to the complaint.

"We expected the Democrats would attempt to exploit these issues for partisan gain. Nevertheless, I welcome a thoughful and non-partisan review of these matters. I'm confident this review will show my actions were appropriate," it said.

The Campaign Finance Board cannot discuss specific complaints. The board consists of three Republicans, two Democrats, and a member of the Independence Party. By default, investigations should take 30 days from the time a complaint is filed, but the board can extend the deadline if needed.

If Pawlenty deliberately filed a false report, he could face a gross misdemeanor and a fine up to $3,000.

Carleton College political science professor Steven Schier suspects the board will look into the matter.

"I would think that given the fact that this is the governor, and that there has been extensive press coverage of it, they will be inclined to investigate. However based on what we know at this point, the violation seems pretty minor, and we'll have to uncover more things if this is to become a major series of events," he said.

Still Schier expects it will be some time before Pawlenty can put the issue behind him.

"There's no firm evidence indicating that the government has been involved in a transgression of law of that sort. There are just suspicions and questions. But as long as those suspicions and questions are around, it's an awkward position for the governor to be in."

The Senate Commerce and Utilities Committee hoped to interview the governor about his telecommunications ties. Pawlenty declined. Committee Chair Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul, welcomes the possibilitiy of a campaign finance investigation.

"I think it does add to the overall pressure on the governor to really sit down and open up to the public and tell the public everything that he knows so that he can help us all get to the truth," she said.

The committee's first hearing will be Aug. 4.

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